Monthly Archives: March 2014

Meeting The Mamas…

March 11th

Noam’s 8th Birthday

We started the day with a 45 min walking Safari with Wilson, one of our Maasai Warrior Guides.  We saw Zebra and learned about many of the small animals in the Maasai Mara, as well as local plants, while the sun rose.  What an amazing way to start the day!

The staff at Bogani was really wonderful, having a small cupcake for Noam to eat at breakfast so we could continue our family tradition of having a cake and singing for breakfast on our birthdays.

The morning activity was great. We were introduced to two local Mamas from the community of Emori Joi: Mama Jane and Mama Judy. We were warmly welcomed into Mama Jane’s home to get a glimpse into her everyday life.

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She explained to us how Free The Children (FTC) has impacted her community over the past few years, mainly through education.  FTC has helped support their local elementary school, as well as helping the adults.  Serving in a consulting role, the FTC staff have been teaching them many types of skills: money management, how to set up a small business, new farming techniques, and basic health pillars to help raise their quality of life.

One of the biggest impacts has been through access to clean water.  FTC drilled a bore well and there is a water kiosk in the community (managed by the community) where anyone can buy clean drinking water. For bathing and watering their gardens, they have to trek down to the river.

As a thank you for her hospitality, we went one kilometre down to the river to help Mama Jane carry some water. Usually, she will make five trips each day, each time carrying forty litres of water.  Perhaps with all of us helping she might only have to take one that day.

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These Mamas are incredibly strong!  Koren, Erez and Zev each carried ten litres, Noam carried five litres and Aubrey carried thirty litres. We were in awe of the Mamas’ ability to carry forty litres balancing two different jugs. The boys really have a sense now of how easy they have it with faucets in our home.

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Mama Jane explained to us how FTC encouraged the Mamas to set up women’s groups to initiate alternative sources of income for the community. One way of doing this was through a “Merry Go Round” system. Each member contributes a set amount of money into a central pot at each monthly meeting, and each time one person is given the total amount, to use towards a large expense.

If there are 12 Mamas in the group, each would receive the large amount once a year. They share their stories of the use of the funds. Some people used the money to start beekeeping, or to buy livestock to help feed their families.

Mama Jane decided to take on a very ambitious project with her yearly share to set an example of what a mama can do when she puts her mind to it. She built herself a new home with a foundation and bricks, something that was unheard of at the time, especially for a woman.

After five years, with patience and perseverance, she reached her goal. It has a sitting area and a bedroom in the back, and she is very proud of what she has accomplished. It also serves as a meeting place for other mamas in the community.

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Mama Jane told us of how several communities got together and started a merry-go-round at a larger regional community level. All the groups pooled their money at the meeting and then gave it to a different group every time. Partially thanks to this group, the Mamas of Emori Joi have started a community dairy business, and are now saving up to buy a cooler to store the milk harvested from their herd of dairy cows.  Mama Jane was elected as the chair of this larger, community merry-go-round.  We all found Mama Jane very inspiring!

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After our visit with Mama Jane and Mama Judy, we headed back to Bogani for lunch.  Next post, we’ll tell you about our afternoon touring and then building at the Kisaruni Girl’s high school.

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Bogani Cottages

March 10

I have been dreaming about this “Me to We” Trip for at least 7 years, maybe longer. I have been dreaming of returning to Africa ever since we left 14 years ago. I cannot describe how wonderful it felt when we drove into the gates of Bogani and heard singing.  The Me to We staff were waiting for us, singing a welcome song in perfect harmony.  I was glad I was wearing sunglasses, because I was quite overcome with emotion.  We were finally here.

The facility is stunning.  It is nestled in a forested area, lush and green.  The cottages are very comfortable, and decorated with African art and handicrafts.

Here are some photos of Maxine and Michelle’s cottage:

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After a delicious lunch, we visited one of Free the Children’s Elementary Schools called Enelerai. The boys enjoyed playing soccer with the students, but were a bit overwhelmed by the swarm of kids that greeted them when we arrived.  Every kid wanted to touch us, our hair, our skin – they were quite curious.  Teva was particularly shy, and asked to be up on Aubrey’s shoulders, safe from the reach of strange arms. Everyone wanted to pick him up.  This was because people wanted to welcome us into their community, to treat us (and especially Teva) as one of their own.  It takes a village to raise a child, and cute little kids are picked up no matter to whom they belong.  Teva got down when it was time to play soccer, though.

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The adults on our trip really enjoyed our tour, seeing the impact of the project on the community at large. We got to see the ruins of the old school, which was built by the community members, so we could compare it to what they have now.   This was not to knock the old school, but to give us a glimpse into the evolution of the community.

Before:

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After:

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When Free the Children first became involved with this community and this school, there were many more boys than girls enrolled.  When the team here did some research, they realized one of the reasons for this skew was because fetching water was the girls’ job.  If the river was in the opposite direction to the school, the girls would not have to time to honour their commitment to the family as well as go to school.  That was when Free the Children decided to provide a clean water source at the school. This way, the girls could bring water home and still attend classes. 

Water Source:

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After school was out, some high school students came to compete in some track events.  As they set up the races, our Maasai guides, Wilson and Jackson, jokingly invited Erez, Zev and Noam to participate. Erez said “sure, why not,” and the boys lined up for the 100 metre dash on the soccer field.  They ran alongside the high school boys, but had no hope of keeping up.  This was quite entertaining for all who were watching, especially the locals.  Kenyans are known for their internationally ranked long distance runners, as well as sprinters.  Perhaps due to the advantage of training and living at an elevation of over 1500 metres, some of the world’s best runners come from this area of Kenya, and of course, many of them run barefoot.

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One of the most amazing things about our trip so far, is our facilitators.  Kate is from New Hampshire, and is wonderful. She has been in Kenya for two years so far. Wilson and Jackson, have already written a book about growing up in Maasailand and becoming Maasai warriors, which we highly recommend. Their story is absolutely fascinating.  For the past four years, they have come to Canada for three months every Fall to do speaking tours with Me to We.  We were so lucky to have met them, and even more lucky to spend most of our time for eight days learning from them.

We ended the day with more splendid food and drink, including a Kenyan cocktail called Dawa, and then a local Bogani tradition of each sharing his or her own highlight of the day. This tradition is much like our family tradition of sharing “Three Awesome Things” prior to sleep for each of the boys. The only trouble for the boys was finding only one highlight.

Next…visiting the Mamas in Emori Joi…

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The Road to Bogani

March 10, 2014

Here is a photo taken as we left the Kicheche Bush Camp with the staff:

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We decided to squeeze in one last game drive on our way to the small private airstrip where Me to We was going to pick us up.  We saw a Martial Eagle clutching its prey – a dead aardwolf cub, in its claws.

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Two jackals moved in and the Eagle dropped the prey.  After inspecting the dead cub, the jackals left. Then things got really interesting.  The vultures were already assembling and two jackals continued circling.

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First, a vulture, nonchalantly sidled over to the carcass, trying to look casual. Suddenly, it grabbed it in its beak, and tried to take off with it.  Unfortunately, it was too heavy.  The vulture walked about 20 metres along the ground while trying to lift off. It had to drop the carcass and re-evaluate the plan.

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In the meantime, the Martial Eagle swooped down to defend its kill, which resulted in a scuffle and both birds flying off temporarily.

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In the meantime, a jackal came up to the carcass and carried it off in its mouth.

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The jackal did not get far before a hyena appeared.

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The jackal dropped the cub and the hyena trotted off to its nest, unbothered, to feed its own baby.

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We had our last breakfast picnic out on the savannah and it was glorious.  Livingston and Nelson were great guides and we learned so much from them. It was a bit sad to say goodbye to them at the Ngerende Airstrip, but we were eager to reunite with Kate and start the next part of our adventure – the real reason why we came to Kenya in the first place: our Me to We trip.

 

 

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Kicheche Safari Bush Camp

Kicheche – ( meaning “mongoose” in Swahili)

March 6-10, 2014

We flew from Nairobi to a tiny airstrip, on a small plane half full with twenty passengers. The plane was about half full, and we did not fly very high which gave us some great views of the ground while we were in the air.  Zev remarked that this was “the most interesting flight I have ever taken, and I didn’t even use any electronics!”

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We landed in the middle of a field, our group of eight and another couple got off, and the rest continued on to other stops.  Kicheche Bush Camp staff picked us up in two jeeps.  Our guides were Maasai Warriors named Nelson and Livingstone, both incredibly knowledgeable about the wildlife and botany of the Maasai Mara. We started seeing wildlife within minutes of us leaving the airstrip. Right away, we saw a Serval cat (familiar from the Bowmanville zoo)  Apparently they are rare to see as they are mostly nocturnal.  We were lucky to see this wild one quite close up.

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The “tents” were quite luxurious with flushing toilets, sink and a bush shower. A bush shower has a bucket that gets filled up with warm water and then gravity works its magic when you open and close the shower valve.  One bucket per two people. To conserve water, you wet your hair and body, turn off the shower, soap up, and then turn the shower on again to rinse off.

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Every morning we woke up at 6am, had a hot beverage with biscuits, and got in the jeep by 6:30, just as the sun was rising.  We would drive around until about nine, when we would have a breakfast picnic out on the savannah.  We would then drive around until about noon and have lunch at one.  After lunch we would have free time until four, when we would go out again until about eight.  We had dinner around 8:30, and everyone would be in bed by around ten.

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We were lucky to see every animal we dreamed of seeing, except for a rhinocerous, which is not indigenous to that area of the Maasai Mara.  We saw families of elephants, giraffes, banded mongoose, prides of lions, herds of zebra, and wildebeest. We saw eight species of antelope, hyenas, aardwolves, ostriches, hippos, cheetahs, crocodiles and a leopard.  Equally interesting was the wide range of birds that inhabit the Massai Mara From the smallest swallows and starlings, to the Secretary Bird and Crowned Crane to the largest birds of prey, like Vultures and Eagles.  These photos are just a small sampling of what we saw.  We collectively took over 2000 photos over the 4 days.

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What was even more fascinating than just seeing these animals in their natural habitat, was observing them for extended periods of time.  We saw animals interacting with their babies; playing, nursing, hunting and eating.  It was better than any television show.  The interactions between different species were thrilling as well.  We witnessed a mixed herd of Zebra, Eland and Cape Buffalo, push a cheetah out of an area when they felt threatened. The drama unfolding could never be captured by a photograph, we just had to sit and observe.

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The adrenalin was pumping, as a young male lion looked our two youngest sons ( ages 4.5 and 8) right in the eye, hardly 2 feet away, chose to lie down in the shade under our jeep, and then refused to move.  We sat holding our breath, wondering how long we would sit there, hoping the lion would not choose to jump into the jeep.  Eventually, after three attempts at starting the engine, he moved on.  Just a little too close for comfort. We watched a cheetah take down a baby antelope and feed her small cub, and spent ages just watching herds of elephants going about their day.  What a breathtaking adventure seen from our jeep, but knowing full well that these were wild animals, not in a zoo.  It was everything we could have hoped for and more.

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As we organize the pictures, we will post more.  This is just a taste 🙂

Next post will be about Bogani Cottages

Posted by Aubrey and Koren

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Nairobi

Hi Everyone, we are now back in Nairobi on Zev’s 10th birthday.  We are hanging out in this swanky hotel called ‘Tribe” for a few hours.  After supper we begin the incredibly long trip home. Michelle and Maxine are resting or showering in their room.  Aubrey is trying to rest with Teva in another room, I have Noam and Erez at the pool, and Zev shocked us all by requesting a key to a third room to have a nap by himself. We have so many things to post about as we’ve been offline for two weeks.  The trip has been an incredible adventure.  I guess we will post one experience at a time, as we edit them.  Our last post feels like months ago, but I think its best to start back at the beginning.

Here’s our the text to go along with the pictures from our last post.

Nairobi March 4th

We certainly had a different view of Nairobi this trip, as compared to backpacking through Africa fifteen years ago on a shoestring budget.

This time, as we deplaned (love that word!) on the tarmac in Nairobi, we were greeted by an airport employee holding a “Kassirer, party of 8” sign. Koren saw the sign and got a private minibus with half our group to the terminal. Aubrey walked right by her and Erez and Zev took the crowded shuttle to the terminal, where they waited for the stragglers to arrive, not realizing Koren and company had already been ushered through.

Kate, from Free the Children, greeted us and escorted us directly to the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden. By this time it was already past dark. Erez and Zev settled into one cottage with our friend Michelle and their grandmother, Bubbe Maxine. The rest of us occupied the other cottage.

The next day, we saw how truly beautiful were the grounds of the Coffee Garden, part of Karen Blixen’s original estate. Our driver, Sammy, met us with the truck and took us first to the Giraffe Centre.

In this educational centre for giraffes, they currently have ten Rothschild giraffes, all allowed to roam free over a large enclosure of hundreds of acres. Although not officially endangered, no one has formally studied giraffes in order to change this designation. In 1987, when Daisy arrived, there were only 130 Rothschild giraffes in the world!

Even though giraffes are one of the most common symobols of Africa, 80% of Kenyans have never seen one. Through breeding programs, hopefully the situation will improve. Daisy IV was brought to the sanctuary in 2009 from another sanctuary.

We all enjoyed feeding Daisy and the warthogs at her feet. If we weren’t careful and quick with the food (but only one piece at a time!) she tends to head butt. Amazingly, giraffes sleep only five to thirty minutes daily. They must stand, as any time their head goes to the level of their body, they will choke and die.

We drove next to the nearby David Sheldrick Wildlife Sanctuary. This sanctuary primarily focuses on helping orphaned elephants to survive, and then slowly releases them back into the wild. Visiting hours are from 12-1pm when they feed the babies in front of the visitors and you can see them up close while learning about their stories. We really enjoyed watching them playing in water,feeding from giant baby bottes full of baby formula,eating leaves from branches,as well as taking mudbaths.We learned that each elephant has its own keeper that will sleep in with them in a bed over their sleeping area. We also learned that it costs $900 USD/month to take care of each elephant, so they have an adoption program to help offset some of the costs. They slowly introduce them to the elephant group in the National Park, monitored for the first 5 years, until they are certain that the orphans will properly integrate into the local elephant population. Most of the Elephants are orphaned by the Ivory Poachers.

We had a delicious lunch and then went to visit the Karen Blixen Museum, of “Out of Africa” fame.We toured her old homestead and learned about her remarkable time in Kenya, mostly alone, managing a huge coffee plantation while her husband was out on safari, hunting.

After the museum, we had a swim in their beautiful outdoor pool, as it was quite hot, and we were not yet accustomed to it.

We capped off the day with a great dinner, and tried to get a good night’s sleep because we had an early flight in the morning.

we were picked up at 7am so we could make our 9:15 flight. we were told that we should be there about 45 minutes early, and it was about a 25 – 30 min drive. 2 hours later, stuck in Nariobi rush hour traffic, with our driver Sammy doing some “Creative driving”, we just barely made it 10 minutes before the plane was supposed to take off. Talk about an adrenelin rush!

Next post will be from Kicheche Safari Bush Camp, from the Maasai Mara…

 

 

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Giraffes and Elephants up close…

March 5

I am too tired to write my intended blogpost, and we have to get up before 6am to catch our flight to go on a 4 day safari.  I decided to compromise and post you a few photos, the text will come later.  I am not sure if we will be able to get online for the next two weeks, but maybe these photos will hold you until then.  First we went to the AFEW Giraffe Centre where we had a close encounter with Daisy, – an absolutely stunning six-year-old Giraffe.

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Next we went to the David Sheldrick  Elephant Orphanage and spent a full hour watching them eat, play and take mud baths.  The cuteness was overwhelming.Very sad that they were all orphans though. Mostly as a result of Ivory poaching.  The have a website – check it out:

https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/  Here are a few photos:

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Hilarious Teva Quote of the Day ( said to our server at dinner):

T: Do you have any honey?

Server:  Yes, do you want some honey?

T: Yes, I need to use it to take my malaria pill.

Ok possibly signing off for two weeks…Enjoy!

Posted by Koren

 

 

 

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Karibu to Kenya!

March 5th

Jambo from Kenya!

Just a quick post to let you know we arrived safely.  Our flight was uneventful.  Some boys were quite cranky when we arrived, but that was to be expected.  There were a few wrinkles in the airport, but all was fine. Me to We took very good care of us.  We are arrived at an absolutely beautiful accommodation here at the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden. It was pitch dark when we arrived, and I didn’t appreciate just how beautiful it was until I watched the sunrise this morning.  This will probably be our last day with Wifi for two weeks, but I will try to post some photos later on today after we see the Giraffes and elephants up close 🙂

The only remarkable thing to mention is that in the first 10 minutes we were here in the cottage, we saw a huge slug, a tiny baby gecko clinging to the inside of Maxine and Michelle’s bed net, a tiny hairy spider on our bed net, and tw other impressive looking insects!   I am very happy to be wearing sandals 🙂 Karibu to Africa!

Posted by Koren

Here are a couple of photos from my sunrise walk

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Amsterdam, the final chapter…

March 3, 2014

Last night was not an easy one.  I went to bed at 11:30 after finishing yesterday’s post.  Everyone thinks I am crazy for staying up late writing, but I am worried I will forget everything if I don’t write it down.  Unfortunately, I woke up around 2 hours later and could not go back to sleep. I was wide awake. And Aubrey was also awake.

I decided to get some food.  I carefully tiptoed to the kitchen and found that Michelle was up emailing back and forth with Howard.  We were all awake, trying not to wake anyone else up.  As I was sitting at the table eating a bowl of yogurt and Muesli, Erez came down the dangerously steep stairs from the loft.  Naturally, he wanted to eat too.  We were having a quiet kitchen party at 3:45am, when Erez looked at me and said: “Hashtag midnight snack!”  Yes, Erez is twelve now, but he’s not even on twitter!  As we wrapped up our snack, Zev came down the stairs. Of course he was hungry, too.  I gave him a banana and sent him back to bed. Apparently, the two of them never went back to sleep.

The alarm went off way too soon.  Michelle went to meet Maxine at the airport, and the flight came in almost an hour early at 6:45am.  We wanted to be at the Anne Frank house before it opened, to get in line, so we had to get moving early. It was painful.

Last week, we took Erez and Zev to see “The Diary of Anne Frank” at the Oshawa Little Theatre, so they were prepared.  Over breakfast, I had to prepare Noam and Teva for the museum because they did not join us at the play.  How does one do that?  How to explain Hitler and his atrocities to a four and seven year old over breakfast?

In spite of the lack of sleep, and such a heavy breakfast talk, we got out on time and were 14th in line when we arrived.  (Statistics provided by Zev.) We only had to stand in the rain for about 20 minutes until the museum opened and we started our journey through the Anne Frank House and the Secret Annex.

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We got there just in time, because, even though it was raining, people were lined up around the block to get in.  It was amazing to see how many people come from all over the world to see this exhibit, judging by the number of languages in which the guide is available. People come here because Anne’s story has struck a chord in so many people across the globe.  I think one of the reasons why her diary has had such a broad appeal, and why it is different from thousands of other holocaust narratives, is that it is not a retrospective look by an adult; rather, it is a young girl, in real time, telling in a very articulate way, how the war was impacting her family in the present.

The museum is very well done. It was a bit surreal seeing the Secret Annex after all these years and after seeing the play just last week. It was also surreal hearing Teva ask me some big questions I didn’t really have answers to, in his innocent, but megaphone-like voice while we were touring the exhibit. It only took about an hour to go through and then there was an interesting exhibit at the end that looks at intolerance in our society now.

In this exhibit, they showed short film clips of “dilemmas” in our society now, and then at the end, you must vote with a button about what side of the debate you are on.  We were shown the results of the people in the room, and then the cumulative stats of everyone that has voted in the exhibit so far – very interesting.  It usually introduced a real life situation in the news that had to do with balancing the rights of the individual versus the community or government. None had easy answers, but I couldn’t help but juxtapose issues prominent in the world with what was happening in Nazi Germany and its occupied lands in World War II.  What would any of us have done in similar circumstances if we were not the oppressed group?  Would we stand up for them?  Or would we be too afraid?  Or, would we have found it “justified”. There are many situations in the world today that seem to be in this grey zone.  We cannot sit idly by. It really gave me something to think about.

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We met up with Maxine and Michelle outside the Museum and then headed over to the Rijksmuseum.  Wow!  What an impressive building. We affectionately called it the “Museum of Lines.” We had to wait outside in the rain for about 25 minutes, then wait inside for awhile to get our tickets, (but we didn’t mind, we weren’t cold and wet anymore and we were in a gorgeous atrium).  Then we lined up for the coat check, and then lined up to get a spot in the café to eat lunch, and then after lunch, we lined up to get into the museum, and then lined up to see all of the paintings.

I didn’t mind the waiting, because everything was so impressive: the art, the artifacts, and the rooms housing them. It was all worth it. I was particularly in awe of the paintings by Rembrandt van Rijn, especially “Night Watch,” which is actually a day scene military portrait. It is famous for its groundbreaking use of lighting, but was misnamed much later, after the painting became dirty and darker ( see pic below).

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Almost as impressive were the works created by Rembrandt’s contemporaries, inspired by his military portraits ( see pic of a “not Rembrandt” immediately above). The sheer size of the works was astounding, some taking up an entire wall. However, I did start wilting a little, as did the kids. After ninety minutes of actual gallery viewing, we walked home.  We did eat lunch in the cafe before we went into the gallery.

When we got home, I was reminded of one of my  favourite things about travelling.  Maxine and I went to the grocery store to pick up a couple of things, and of course, I ended up buying more than I set out to buy.  I get very excited about grocery shopping in other countries.

This time, I wanted to buy a treat for the boys, so I got mini chocolate banana caramel cheesecakes and some chocolate/vanilla milk in a carton.  Once home, the boys were duly excited at the treat but were still mesmerized by cartoons in Dutch. Yes, in Dutch.

I opened the cheesecakes and found they were in individual wide mouthed glass jars – yes, jars.

I poured them each a glass of milk, only to find that it was not milk, but …pudding!!!!

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I love it!  That happened to me all the time when I Iived in Japan. Priceless!

After finishing off most of the food Amira had given us the first day, we packed up and got the kids to bed.  I still had quite a lot to organize, and was feeling tired, so Aubrey and Michelle went out on their own to explore Amsterdam at night by foot.  I can’t wait to hear what they were up to.

Here are some gratuitous Amsterdam shots because I couldn’t figure out how to get them off my camera for yesterday’s post.

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Stay tuned for our next post from Nairobi, Kenya.

 

 

 

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Erez’s Thoughts on Amsterdam

Erez’s Thoughts on Amsterdam

        The past few days we have been in Amsterdam before we set off to Kenya. We are staying in a little apartment that has a main floor and a loft. Zev, Noam and I sleep up in the loft. Michelle sleeps in the living room. Teva sleeps in the little room off of the bedroom with a queen sized bed where my parents sleep. It really is very very exciting to live here.

The stairs going up to our loft are VERY steep, there is a light that has a motion detector that turns on when you get close up in the hallway up in the loft and there is an amazing view of the city out the windows. At night if you look out my window you can see a little tower that is lit up, it’s really cool because it sort of glows.

The streets are also different. There is a sidewalk in between lanes with bus stations every once and awhile. Also there is a designated bike road in between the sidewalk and the street! Did you know that there are over 600 000 bikes in Amsterdam at any given time!!!!!!!!!!! Wow that’s a lot of bikes.

There is one Park called Vondelpark right next to our apartment.  It is huge. It feels like it goes on forever!!!! Another fact is that 90 % of all people in Amsterdam visit Vondelpark at least once every year!!! Amsterdam’s people are soooooooooo active, it’s crazy. Our flight was an hour early so we had to kill time because the people who were cleaning the apartment weren’t expecting us till 10:30. So, we took a walk in the Park. At 9:00 the Park was flooded with people exercising!!!!!!!

Amsterdam has over one hundred kilometers of canals. We took a 75 minute canal cruise and we learned a lot about the canals. Did you know Amsterdam is named after its only natural canal! The name comes from the fact that the city was started on the Dam on the Amstel River. All of the three other main canals were dug in the 1700’s.

We also went to the Van Gogh museum, the Anne Frank House and the Rijks Museum. They were all super cool and interesting. The Van Gogh museum was really interesting but you can’t look at art for more than 3 hours so we went to a fancy noodle house for supper. The Anne Frank House was really educational and I learned so much more about Anne. The Rijks Museum was really cool because it had rooms and rooms full of stuff that was 500 years old!!! The paintings were amazingly huge! I had no idea how anyone could have painted that well and had the patience to paint a picture forty feet wide and twenty feet tall!!!!!!! Did you know all of Amsterdam is below sea level! Wow what an amazing place!

Tomorrow we leave for the airport and fly to KENYA!!!!!!!!!!! I’m so excited.

Posted by Erez

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Amsterdam Part 2

Amsterdam Part 2

This morning, our friend Michelle graciously offered to go to the Anne Frank house to get tickets;  the advance tickets were sold out.  But no luck! Online or in person, advance tickets really were sold out for a week!  Still, she enjoyed her adventure, meandering through the streets and having some time alone to explore.

The rest of us had a quiet morning at the apartment visiting with Amira, eating, and playing quietly. Jetlag was not apparent until five pm, when my patience was running a bit thin as the kids slowly started unravelling.

We walked to the Van Gogh Museum.  The kids all loved it, but hit their saturation point at about 3 or so hours, which coincided with us being well overdue for lunch!  Teva was especially cute running around the exhibit with his headset. He excitedly searched for each numbered painting in order to hear the next story. His short-term retention was good, but I expect by tomorrow when asked about anything we saw or heard, he will classically say “I have no idea!” I personally could have spent another two hours in the gallery. I was in heaven.

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We had a picnic out in a huge open grassy area in the museum district. After eating, there was a lot of space in which the kids could run.  What a gorgeous spot!  Though it was a bit chilly, we soaked in the vitamin D and watched the kids roll down the grassy hill over and over. Erez discovered a skateboard park he wanted to run around. On closer inspection, it was some sculpture abutting a ramp to an underground parking lot. The boys spent an hour running along the angled walls, as if it were a velodrome for people.

We walked through the elegant Rijks Museum and then took a canal boat tour.  It was really neat to learn so much about the city from the vantage point of the water.

Amsterdam is fascinating on so many levels.  The canal system is quite complex, with over 1700 bridges. The city is a real engineering marvel, managing the waterways:, expanding marshes into farmland, farmland into towns, and then as the city grew over time, adding bridges and making farm dikes into canals .

The architecture is beautiful; long streets of tall, skinny buildings, all attached together. Many buildings along the canals have a hook at the top, protruding out the front over the street. These hooks help hoist up furniture, supplies, and anything that can’t make it up the impossibly steep stairs (which is everything). The stairs are really more like ladders. As well, the hooks helped to bring goods away from the frequent flooding in the city, a habit broken with the building of a permanent dam many years ago that now protects the city. Evidence of the flooding history includes pieces of shells in the sandy surface of the low lying parklands we walked on yesterday.

 

The name Amsterdam comes from Amstelredamme, as the city was originally named for the dam of the Amstel River. This city is brimming with culture, including a ridiculous amount of museums (at least fifty).  I wish I was here longer to see at least a couple more.  They also have lots of theatre, live music, a cinemateque – the list goes on and on.

The other really interesting thing that struck me about Amsterdam is the cycling infrastructure.   Every road has a dedicated bike road, which is really more part of the sidewalk than the road.  Look both ways before daring to cross! In many parts of the downtown core, there are no cars allowed at all – only bikes and public transport.  Transit passes are a mere 70 Euros for the year  (about  $107 CDN.) We saw the three story high bicycle parking garage at the central station – the boys were all amazed. We capped off our day with dinner at a Japanese noodle house, and then walked home through the lively streets – perfect end to another great day.

Overall, I have found Amsterdam to be a very open, tolerant, green city which I have barely begun to explore.  I feel like we need to come back again to fully appreciate all the city has to offer.  I can’t believe we are only here one more day.  Tomorrow we meet “Bubbie” at the airport and then Tuesday we head to Nairobi.

Posted by Koren

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